Monday, July 27, 2009

Green Lizard

Here is a photo of a young male (non-breeding) Green Lizard Lacerta viridis that I took in a garden at Lake Balaton at the weekend. He was popping out of a flower-bed and basking in the sun for a while on a concrete step each morning before heading off to hunt for insects in a nearby wood-pile.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Patvinsuo NP Finland

One of the places we visited by day in Finland on our mammal watching trip was the Patvinsuo National Park. This 105 square kms of bogs, lakes and forests is a quiet, out of the way place, in the very east of the country not far from the frontier with Russia. We walked the 3km long board-walk of the Kuusipolku Trail where there is some great old mixed forest. A key bird here is Three-toed Woodpecker (see photo) though we did not actually see it on the rainy day we were there. There were, however a quite a few mosquitos... though they don't bother me much!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Border Zones and Wildlife

Last week in Finland we spent some time looking for wildlife in the Karelia region in the border zone between Finland and Russia. Indeed all the Bears and Wolves we saw were in that zone. On the Finnish side there is a 2-3km strip of land that cannot be entered without permission (my Finnish friends kindly arranged this for us). Over the border in Russia this "no-mans-land" is said to be 20km or so in width. Thus there is an strip of land where few people go, indeed almost no one lives there and hence wildlife is mostly undisturbed and thrives and has done so for decades. Now I have travelled extensively throughout Eastern Europe over the last 25 years and have to say that such frontier zones, those that formed (and in some cases still form) the borders between "East" and "West" often contain the very best wildlife habitats.

Friday, July 17, 2009

More Bears!

The Bears that fed in front of that Finnish hide certainly had a "pecking order". Though we saw 8 different Bears there were never more than 2 individuals together. Some individuals would come in confidently and the Bear eating at that time would grab a piece of food and leave in a hurry. Other Bears would hang around on the periphery waiting for the Bear that was eating to leave before rushing in to the table. We were soon able to see who was dominant over who.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Finland - a night in a hide

Let me tell you about my first night in the wildlife-watching hide in Finland. It was located near Kuhmo in Karelia close to the Russian border. My friends and I were in the hide at 5.30pm. It was comfortable and there were narrow windows to peep through and discreet holes for cameras to poke through. Kari, our local guide, placed some smelly salmon in front of the hide and told us to settle down for a night of waiting and watching. Very soon gangs of Ravens and a few Black-headed Gulls came in to feast. Then at 6.50pm the 1st Brown Bear suddenly appeared from the right. A young male that approached fairly confidently. Then a 2nd arrived and the 1st moved off. After 20 minutes he too returned to the forest. Then at 9.30pm both came back. And this is how it went, Bears coming and going, taking salmon in front of us. Then, at 10 minutes past midnight, a Wolverine, yes, a Wolverine, cautiously approached, again from the right. This magnificent animal was not as calm as the Bears, indeed it was positively nervous, very wary, and took the salmon that had been placed furthest away. And on it went, all night, Bears, lulls in activity, mugs of coffee, and then this Wolverine. But the Wolverine never came when the Bears were around. A bit scruffy, one ear ripped (in a fight with a Bear ? or a Wolf ? or with another Wolverine ? Who knows ?) Whatever, this Wolverine was superb, the best mammal I have ever seen...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wolverines & All That!

In a word... SUCCESS ! I have just realised a life-long ambition in Finland, namely seeing Wolverine (in fact seeing 8 different Wolverines: 3 adults, 3 kits and 2 juveniles). We (4 friends and I) spent 4 nights in 2 different wildlife-watching hides in Karelia in Eastern Finland. The wildlife observations we were treated to was way better than we had hoped for. In another word... STUNNING! In addition to the Wolverines we also saw 8 different Brown Bears and a pack of 5 Wolf. This shot here shows a Wolverine foraging on a tree-stump a few yards from one of the hides. I will post more photos and notes on all this in the coming days.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wolverine Time

I mentioned some months ago that the animal that I would really like to see most is the Wolverine Gulo gulo. This fantastic animal, the largest member of the Mustelidae family (polecats, badgers, etc), lives in the boreal and Arctic regions. So, after much planning, I am off to Finland tonight. I am meeting up with some friends and then it is off for a week into Karelia, right up on the Russian border, with high hopes of seeing a Wolverine or two. I hope we can see one like this (photo taken from one of the forest hides we will be visiting). I will let you know how we get on!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Czechs and Rollers

At the weekend I had the pleasure of taking 3 Czech mates (sic) of mine (Josef, Petr and Karel) out in the Kiskunsag region in Hungary. Their main aim was to get photographs of Roller, a bird that has disappeared from their country. Finding a few Rollers was not that hard, but finding birds that could be photographed was another matter. After much searching we ended up at a spot where several pairs breed, mostly in nestboxes. But here we found a very convenient nest-hole, low down in a natural cavity in a tree. My friends were able to carefully place a portable photo-hide and get photos of the birds as they sat near the hole without disturbing them.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

More from Romania

When guiding birders in eastern Romania, besides taking folks to see the many, many birds of the Danube Delta, I always include a couple of days in the Dobrudja region. This dry terra firma area hosts all kinds of birds that do not occur in the delta or are are hard to see there. Birds such as Levant Sparrowhawk, Booted Eagle, Spanish Sparrow, Rose-coloured Starling, Pied and Isabelline Wheatears, Sombre Tit, Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Stone Curlew (as in photo here).